He remembers the first time he drove alone. Creeping, clutch down, round the empty car park at the bay. He felt every pebble pop beneath the tires. Back before his test, there was always someone in the passenger seat, telling him to take the next left, telling him to check his mirrors, silently plotting an emergency stop. The one thing he remembers from the test is the sweat, slick on the wheel. He passed first time.
He bought a new car, then it was just him, alone. Well, the battered blue punto was new to him anyway. It was full of his music: Kanye, or Seven Nation Army, and the sunshine and the pedals. With his right foot down, he could turn a summer breeze to a tornado. At 18, he’d never felt so godly and so helpless. Country lanes called every spare minute. For months, he lived in the 10 feet between the hedges, at about 40 miles an hour.
The punto taught him how to hit a curb, how to change a tire, and how to swear about it. Its scratches were his. He remembers gunning down the fast lane one November, and how the raindrops made shadows play on the curve of the dash.
It was never tidy. Right now, it has a Welsh dragon mug, about 74p, a pizza box and a horrible scarf in it, to say the least. He flicks a silver Zippo open and shut.
He remembers every crash and every bump. The first week after he passed, they were stuck in traffic. His phone rang and he took his eyes off the road and his foot off the break. The car shuddered and his face burned hot. The engine cut out, but the phone kept chiming. An angry middle-aged surfer-type hopped out of the van in front, incredulous. The conversation was so f***ing awkward. He didn’t even know where the insurance stuff was or whatever. They got through it though, him and the punto. His sweet old punto.
Even when the warning lights flashed. Even when the handbrake got slack and spongey. Even when it gave out. Even now, with the lights off in the dark in a ditch by the car park at the bay. Stuck in a fucking ditch. He reaches down, eyes fixed, and pops the petrol cap. He leans back and grabs the horrible scarf, then opens the door. Sighing, he swings out and stands in the dark. The silver Zippo snaps open. With his left index, he presses the horrible scarf through the petrol cap.
The silver Zippo flickers in the wet car windows as he says goodbye.